Cast your mind back, reader, to the heady halcyon days of 2011. It seemed like the world was ending: the whole of the Middle East was rising up to overthrow a series of violent, oppressive dictators, the economy was so hopelessly broken that every news story featured anchors openly weeping into each others’ arms at the mere mention of money, and Londontown was set ablaze by an army of apocalyptically disenfranchised knob jockeys. Amidst this unrelenting cavalcade of misery, you may remember that the humble multi-billion dollar games industry heroically provided a small beacon of hope in the form of various interactive entertainments. Like a torch in the cold night they helped us weather the slings and arrows of outrageous 2011, God bless them.
So it is only fair that we offer the gaming industry some token of our gratitude for their services to escapism, and what better way to give thanks than with prestigious, if largely meaningless, awards. Yes, the venerable British Academy of the Film and Television Arts recently dispensed some establishment love in the form of weirdly creepy golden death masks commemorating gaming’s numerous achievements in 2011.
The BAFTAs have a habit of honouring bold yet deeply flawed interactive narrative thingamebobs: Heavy Rain cleaned up at last year’s game awards despite having more problems with it than there is space here to detail. This explains the unexpected appearance (to me, at least) of L.A. Noire in a lot of the award categories shortlists, BAFTA must be kind enough to ignore a game’s shortcomings if it is at least trying to make gaming a more narrative medium. Despite myriad nominations, though, L.A. Noire failed to pick up all that many awards, having to make do with Best Original Music, which seems ironic considering the game had about forty licensed songs on its soundtrack.
Annoyingly, L.A. Noire robbed Deus Ex: Human Revolution of a best music gong that it would have very much deserved, though this is a recurring theme throughout the whole awards this year – my favourite game of 2011 was largely ignored, with scant nominations and no wins. This seems odd because you would think a game like Human Revolution, that straddles lofty narrative ambitions and popular appeal, would be right up BAFTAs street (there’s got to be a better way of saying that).
But then you look through some of the other award categories and you realize what the hell, Deus Ex is a strategy game now? Blink and you’ll miss it – nestled in between From Dust and Football Manager 2012 there’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, nominee for Best Strategy Game. I’m not entirely sure in which conceivable universe Human Revolution would be considered a strategy game; call me old-fashioned, but a game where you run around shooting people from the first person perspective of a single protagonist is a First Person Shooter. It can’t be a strategy game – I don’t remember Adam Jensen commanding huge armies of cyborgs to overthrow the Illuminati, though that would have been awesome. Maybe the combination of shooting and RPG elements threw off BAFTA’s complex nomination algorithm and Deus Ex: Human Revolution got lumped in the strategy game category as a glitch. If BAFTA’s looking at the game through that lens, though, it might explain why the body modification actioner didn’t have a bigger presence in the nominations. Who knows?
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was also beaten to the Best Story crown by mind-bending pacifist puzzler Portal 2, which stings a bit because I do genuinely believe Human Revolution had a better (and deeper) story. That said, Portal 2 puts almost every other game of last year to shame with the quality of its writing, so if Deus Ex had to lose then it couldn’t have lost to a better opponent. It was Portal 2’s night, to be honest, and the excellent wormhole shooter swept the board, picking up a thoroughly justified Best Design award, as well as the coveted Best Game prize. Whatever you may think of that decision, I think that we can agree that a world where we call a game as good as Portal 2 our game of the year is a just one.
My favourite award of the game BAFTAs this year was the Best Performer award, largely because I think it’s great to see voice actors receiving recognition for their talents and contributions to gaming. This year saw Mark Hamill win the award for his excellent performance as The Joker in Batman: Arkham City, which also picked up the Best Action prize. I’ve argued before that Hamill’s Joker, reprised from the seminal Saturday-morning Batman cartoon of the 90s, is one of the greatest incarnations of the character ever, and his performance in Arkham City is one of the best things about the game. It was also nice to see Stephen Merchant nominated for his fine work on Portal 2, which I consider one of the best comic performances we’ve yet seen in videogames. I’m not sure why Aaron Stanton was nominated for playing ColeBot Ver 3.7 in L.A. Noire, but then again, his chilling portrayal of a heartless cyborg detective was pretty spot on.
And now, suitably rewarded in gold and wenches, the gaming industry gives one final look at 2011. “My work here is done,” it says, and rides off into the sunset, probably to rescue us from the fresh hell of 2012.